Wikipedia:Categories, lists, and navigation templates

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Wikipedia offers several ways to group articles: categories, lists (including embedded lists), and navigation templates (of which article series boxes are one type). The grouping of articles by one method neither requires nor forbids the use of the other methods for the same informational grouping. Instead, each method of organizing information has its own advantages and disadvantages, and is applied for the most part independently of the other methods following the guidelines and standards that have evolved on Wikipedia for each of these systems.

Accordingly, these methods should not be considered in conflict with each other. Rather, they are synergistic, each one complementing the others. For example, since editors differ in style, some favor building lists while others favor building categories, allowing links to be gathered in two different ways, with lists often leapfrogging categories, and vice versa. This approach has resulted in two main link-based systems of navigating Wikipedia. See the navigation menu at the top of Wikipedia:Contents, and see Category:Wikipedia categories. Many users prefer to browse Wikipedia through its lists, while others prefer to navigate by category; and lists are more obvious to beginners, who may not discover the category system right away. Therefore, the "category camp" should not delete or dismantle Wikipedia's lists, and the "list camp" shouldn't tear down Wikipedia's category system—doing so wastes valuable resources. Instead, each should be used to update the other.

At the same time, there may be circumstances where consensus determines that one or more methods of presenting information is inappropriate for Wikipedia. For instance, the guideline on overcategorization sets out a number of situations in which consensus has consistently determined that categories should not be used. A regularly occurring outcome at WP:CFD for some deleted categories is to listify, because there are cases where lists are appropriate while categories may not be (e.g. List of unusual units of measurement exists as a list, but not as a category Category:Unusual units of measurement).

Category workers, list builders, and series box designers all endeavor to develop comprehensive networks of links for navigating the encyclopedia. Because of this, increasingly, multiple entries to fields of knowledge are being provided. Take "symphonies", for example:

Overlapping categories, lists and navigation templates are not considered duplicative[edit]

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It is neither improper nor uncommon to simultaneously have a category, a list, and a navigation template which all cover the same topic. These redundant systems of organizing information are considered to be complementary, not inappropriately duplicative. Furthermore, arguing that a category duplicates a list (or vice versa) at a deletion discussion is not a valid reason for deletion and should be avoided.

Consider that lists may include features not available to categories, and building a rudimentary list of links is a useful step in improving a list. Deleting these rudimentary lists is a waste of these building blocks, and unnecessarily pressures list builders into providing a larger initial commitment of effort whenever they wish to create a new list, which may be felt as a disincentive. When deciding whether to create or avoid a list, the existence of a category on the same topic is irrelevant.

Below is a comparison of how these techniques group information and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Categories[edit]

Compared with a list, a category may have both advantages and disadvantages.

Example of a category page. Every page in the article namespace should have at least one category. Categories should be on major topics that are likely to be useful to someone reading the article.

Article: Michael Jackson
Useful category: Category:American pop singers
Not useful: Category:Musicians whose first name starts with M

A category is probably inappropriate if the answer to the following questions is "no":

  • Is it possible to write a few paragraphs or more on the subject of a category, explaining it?
  • If you go to the article from the category, will it be obvious why it's there? Is the category subject prominently discussed in the article?

An article will often be in several categories. Restraint should be used, however — categories become less effective the more there are on a given article.

An article should usually not be in both a category and its subcategory, e.g. Microsoft Office is in Category:Microsoft software, so should not also be in Category:Software—except when the article defines a category as well as being in a higher category, e.g. Ohio is in both Category:States of the United States and Category:Ohio (a good way to understand this exception is that if an article exists, and then a category is created on the same subject as the article, it should not cause the article to be removed from any of its categories).

Exceptions should also be considered when the article subject has a relevance to the parent category that is not expressed by the subcategory's definition. For instance, if Category:People executed by guillotine during the French Revolution was the only subcategory of Category:People of the French Revolution, it would not make sense to remove major figures of the French Revolution solely because of the means of their death.

Categories appear without annotations, so be careful of neutral point of view (NPOV) when creating or filling categories. Unless it is self-evident and uncontroversial that something belongs in a category, it should not be put into a category. Especially see Wikipedia:Categorization of people.

An exception to the above rules is Category:Wikipedia maintenance, which contains categories intended to be temporary.

Every category should be a subcategory of some other category. You can start from the top of the category hierarchy at Category:Fundamental categories. If you think a good parent probably exists but you just can't find it, add the {{Uncategorized}} tag. Your category will show up at Special:Uncategorizedcategories.

For articles without any stable category, the {{Uncategorized}} tag can be used to bring attention to it, either on its own, or in the format {{uncat|July 2014}}. There is also an automatically updated list at Special:Uncategorizedpages which displays uncategorized/stubbed articles; however it only updates once every few days, and only lists 1000 articles at a time. So it is always best to explicitly place an {{uncat}} tag, if you are uncertain how an article should be categorized.

Advantages of a category[edit]

  1. Auto-linking. Create a link to a category on an article page, and a corresponding link to that article will be visible on the category page.
  2. Multi-directional navigation. A category can contain multiple subcategories, and can also be part of several categories. Categories are organized within Wikipedia into a web of knowledge starting with Category:Wikipedia categories.
  3. Good for exploratory browsing of Wikipedia.
  4. Less susceptible to external linkspam than other types of pages, because only Wikipedia articles can be members of categories.
  5. Relatively unobtrusive in that they generally don't distract from the flow of the article.

Disadvantages of a category[edit]

  1. Can't be edited directly to add or remove entries. This must be done at the bottom of each article to be included or excluded from the category.
  2. Entries in a category can't be edited, such as adding references or annotations to them, and the user must go to the article to see these.
  3. There is no provision for referencing, to verify a topic meets a category's criteria of inclusion
  4. The category namespace is not included by default in searches using Wikipedia's search box. Searches of the category namespace do not actually search the categories, only the category pages.
  5. Entries are arranged in alphabetical order only (though you can control the alphabetization). They cannot be organized into sections and subsections on a single page, each with its own descriptive introduction.
  6. Can be difficult to maintain:
    1. A category with hundreds of items cannot be moved except by editing hundreds of articles (though a bot can help)
    2. Tracking changes to a category is effectively impossible:
      1. A category's edit history does not show when entries were added or removed from the category. So there is no easy way to tell when an article is removed from a category—it simply disappears with no indication that it was ever there in the first place.
      2. Wikipedia's watchlist feature is useless for tracking changes to a category's membership, because those do not show up as edits to the page (because they do not even exist on that page—they are at the bottom of each member page).
  7. Does not support other forms of tracking, such as adding red links. (Red links are useful as gap indicators and as task reminders to create those articles.) However stubs can be added to categories.
  8. Gives no context for any specific entry, nor any elaboration; only the name of the article is given. That is, listings cannot be annotated (with descriptions nor comments), nor referenced.
  9. Alternative names for the same item can be included only by including redirects in the category.
  10. It is not obvious to new users that categories exist, how to add items to them, how to link new categories into existing schemes, nor how to deal with point of view (POV) concerns.
  11. Display of items in a category is limited to 200 on a page. To see the full contents of a category with more members than this, multiple pages need to be viewed.

Lists[edit]

Compared with a category, a list may have both advantages and disadvantages.

Example of a list.

Advantages of a list[edit]

Shortcut:
  1. Good for exploratory browsing of Wikipedia.
  2. Often more comprehensive because each is maintained from a centralized location (at the page itself). See the top end of the list hierarchy at Lists of topics, Lists of basic topics, List of overviews, and List of glossaries.
  3. Can be formatted in many different ways, to improve the presentation of the contents of the list. For example, several levels of a hierarchy may be included in a list, or the list may have multiple columns, each of which can be a basis for the user to sort the list.
  4. Can be built and maintained by editing a single page, whereas filling a category requires the editing of multiple pages.
  5. Can be embellished with annotations (further details). For example, a list of soccer world championship teams can include with each entry when each championship was won, whom the champions defeated, who their coach was, etc.
  6. Included in searches of Wikipedia. Being in the main namespace, lists are included by default in Wikipedia searches. Their content is also searched by Google and other search engines.
  7. Can be referenced to justify the inclusion of listed articles.
  8. Can include items that are not linked (e.g., List of compositions by Franz Schubert), or, if appropriate, red links. (See WP:Write the article first.)
  9. List items can be manually sorted using a variety of methods. An article can appear several times or in different ways in the same list.
  10. List items can be linked to specific sections of articles.
  11. Can include invisible links to discussion pages, so that clicking on "related changes" will include those (Format: [[Talk:Omphalology| ]]); the list itself can also be included by linking it to itself, e.g. by linking the bold-faced phrase in the lead: '''This is a [[list of compositions by Franz Schubert]]'''...
  12. Can be more easily edited by newbies who are less familiar with Wiki markup language.
  13. Images can be interspersed throughout a list.
  14. Templates (such as navigation boxes) can be included as portions of a list.
  15. An embedded list, one incorporated into an article on a topic, may include entries which are not sufficiently notable to deserve their own articles, and yet may yet be sufficiently notable to incorporate into the list. Furthermore, since the notability threshold for a mention is less than that for a whole article, you can easily add a mention to a list within an article, without having to make the judgment call on notability which you would need to make if you were to add a whole article—if someone else feels that it is notable enough, they can always linkify the mention and create an article anyway.

Disadvantages of a list[edit]

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  1. No auto-linking. Every article links to its categories in a consistent way, but lists may be more difficult to discover because not every article listed links to it, and each may choose to link to it in a different way. Attempting to enforce crosslinks from articles in the category is error-prone, makes editing the list taxing, and counteracts the ease-of-editing benefits lists otherwise enjoy.
  2. Less comprehensive hierarchy. The category system has an extensive and detailed hierarchy to facilitate browsing by increasing specialization, while lists of lists are relatively rare and are not deeply nested.
  3. Complex automated processing. Lists are more difficult to process automatically using bots, because they may contain prose that contains links to items that are not in the list itself, and it is necessary to parse the page wikitext to extract listed items instead of using a specialized API as categories do.
  4. No automatic sorting. Editors have to manually determine where an entry belongs, and add it there. Often editors will simply add new items to the bottom of the list, reducing the list's effectiveness. This disadvantage can be overcome by placing the list in a sortable table.
  5. Can become bogged down with entries that cannot be reliably sourced and do not meet the requirements for inclusion in the encyclopaedia.
  6. Some topics (e.g. a list of all people from a particular country who have Wikipedia articles) are so broad that a list would be unmanageably long and effectively unmaintainable.

Navigation templates[edit]

Shortcuts:
Not to be confused with MediaWiki:Sidebar.

Navigation templates are grouping of links to related articles. Navigation templates are generally presented in one of two formats:

  • horizontal, placed at the bottom of articles and also called navboxes
  • vertical, often found at the top-right corner of articles and called sidebars.

Wiki markup documentation for navigation templates at different levels of specificity includes Template:Navbox/doc, Template:Sidebar/doc, and, at the top or bottom of the template, Template:Navbar/doc.

Each link should clearly be identifiable as such to our readers. In general text colors should be consistent with Wikipedia text color defaults, so links should be blue; dead links should be red; and red and blue should not be used for other (non-link) text. However, specific navbox guidelines for color of text and background other than the defaults are available.

Navigation templates are particularly useful for a small, well-defined group of articles; templates with a large numbers of links are not forbidden, but can appear overly busy and be hard to read and use. Good templates generally follow some of these guidelines:

  1. All articles within a template relate to a single, coherent subject.
  2. The subject of the template should be mentioned in every article.
  3. The articles should refer to each other, to a reasonable extent.
  4. There should be a Wikipedia article on the subject of the template.
  5. You would want to list many of these articles in the See also sections of the articles.

If the collection of articles does not meet these tests, that indicates that the articles are loosely related, and a list or category may be more appropriate.

Navigation templates located in the top-right corner of articles (sometimes called a "sidebar" or "part of a series" template) should be treated with special attention, because they are so prominently displayed to readers. The collection of articles in a sidebar template should be fairly tightly related, and the template should meet most or all of the preceding guidelines. If the articles are not tightly related, a footer template (located at the bottom of the article) may be more appropriate.

The article links in a navigation template should be grouped into clusters, by topic, or by era, etc. Alphabetical ordering does not provide any additional value to a category containing the same article links. For example, see Template:General physics which has articles grouped into related sub-topics.

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Every article that transcludes a given navbox should normally also be included as a link in the navbox so that the navigation is bidirectional.

Finally, external links should not be included in navigation templates. Sources may be included in the template documentation (a <noinclude> section that is visible only after viewing the template itself, but not upon its transclusion).

Advantages[edit]

  1. Provides a consistent look and navigation system for related articles.
  2. Faster to navigate than a category.
  3. Gives immediate information to equivalent elements
  4. For presenting a series of articles in a chronological order, a template is often most appropriate. Example: Template:Princess Royal (there are two Marys and two Annes in that list, which makes the chronological way of presenting these princesses an asset to a merely alphabetically ordered presentation of these same names). For very long chronological series, it is preferable to use succession boxes, which only show the elements of the series immediately preceding and succeeding the article.
  5. They provide an organized resource for readers who went through an article in some broad topic to find other articles on the same broad topic, rather than making those readers "go fish" for articles wiki-linked in the text or in the "See also" section.
  6. Mitigates large "See also" sections, potentially duplicated and out-of-sync among related articles

Disadvantages[edit]

  1. Does not provide a consistent look and navigation system between different topics — there is no single format across all navigation templates.
  2. If simple, can often be replaced with a category. It also can be difficult to give more detail than a category can give without the box becoming unmanageably large.
  3. Can become ugly or seem pointless, e.g. by unsightly coloring schemes, size, number of them on the same page, etc. For this reason article series boxes need to be self-evident, while they can't contain much text for definitions or explanations.
  4. Inclusion of article links or subdivisions in a template may inadvertently push a point of view. It may also incorrectly suggest that one aspect of a topic or a linked example is of more, less, or equal importance to others; be used to advertise obscure topics in prominent places; or assert project proprietorship. Templates can go to Wikipedia:Templates for discussion if they appear to push a POV. Trying to remedy this by adding more templates might lead to the disadvantage described in the previous point.
  5. On the other hand, may not give the reader enough clues as to which links are most relevant or important when this would not be controversial
  6. Can alter the page lay-out without the reason thereof showing on the page itself (e.g. when the template contains a NOTOC instruction, an unclosed <div>, etc.)
  7. Can take up too much space for information that is only tangentially related
  8. Includes the full list of links in every article, even though often many of the links are not useful in some of the articles
  9. Due to size, the use of multiple nav templates may take up too much space on one article, which could lead to a POV-tainted choice as to which to include
  10. Templates are not included in search results by default, which makes it hard for readers and editors to find them.
  11. They implicitly assume that readers who went through an article in some broad topic will want to read other articles on the same broad topic, rather than articles wiki-linked in the text or in the "See also" section.

Navigation templates located in the top-right corner of articles (sometimes called a "sidebar" or "part of a series" template) have some specific issues and should be treated with special attention, because they are so prominently displayed to readers:

  1. The large chunk of highly visible screen space might be better used for images or essential information.
  2. They might be perceived as fencing off a subject as the "territory" of a particular scholarly area.
  3. The collection of articles in a sidebar template should be fairly tightly related, and the template should meet most or all of the preceding guidelines. If the articles are not tightly related, a footer template (a navbox, located at the bottom of the article) may be more appropriate.

Examples[edit]

Example templates include: Template:Spain topics (medium sized horizontal template), Template:Philosophy topics (large horizontal template), Template:Philosophy-sidebar ("Part of a series on ..." vertical template), Template:Policy list (a small vertical template), Renault#External links (several horizontal templates at the bottom of an article). Some unusual templates include Template:Administrators' noticeboard navbox (a vertical template), and Template:Noticeboard links (a horizontal template sometimes positioned at the top).

See also[edit]

Example[edit]

Template:Harry Potter is an example of organizing voluminous, diverse material into a readable template.